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Massive Crowds Flock To Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation Amid Heightened Security

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Security was tight for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon inflation Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of people were expected to head to Central Park to watch the giant balloons take shape. This year, the event began two hours earlier at 1 p.m. and the public had to leave by 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.

Spectators like the Pennebaker Family were eager and excited to get a first look at the stars of the parade. It's their first time to New York, and while mom and dad admit they did consider safety, they said they feel confident in the NYPD.

"It did cross our mind, but it didn't prevent us from coming at all," said Bo Pennebaker.

"We trust the New York Police Department completely, so we have no worries, no fears," said Kathryn Pennebaker.

Checkpoints for the event were similar to those in place for the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration, NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan said.

"We're experts at this, we do this on a regular basis so we'll be able to do it quite easily," Monahan said. "We will get them in and out very quickly."

For the first time, there was only one entrance to the viewing event at West 74th Street and Columbus Avenue.

Visitors walked to Central Park West, where officers inspected bags and scanned visitors with security wands, CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported.

"We've been moving towards wanding for all our major events, and this is just another step up with that," NYPD Assistant Chief Kathleen O'Reilly said.

There were bag checks, with no large backpacks, chairs, coolers or umbrellas allowed.

"It was good. There were lots of bag checkers coming in. Saw lots of police presence, which was nice," one woman said.

Scott Levy brought his family from Brooklyn.

"I'm a little concerned, but we saw what was happening here and we felt very safe and comfortable," he said.

One spectator told CBS2's Andrea Grymes she waited "at least over an hour."

"A couple of hours, but it's worth the wait," another said.

Some of the other security measures included police snipers on rooftops, officers on horseback and bomb-sniffing dogs.

"You know what, I feel safer. The more security the better," one man said.

"I've seen a lot of policemen, so I feel really safe," another added.

In past years, Central Park West was open to vehicular traffic during the event. This year, however, it was completely shut down from 73rd Street to 85th Street and concrete barriers are up along Columbus Avenue from 77th Street to 81st Street to create a safety bubble to spectators.

"Everybody can cue here on Central Park West and enjoy a wonderful event. It's much better, secure, safer footprint for the people to come," said O'Reilly.

"I think it's welcoming, absolutely welcoming. Because you know the threats that can be out there. So absolutely, I'm all for it," a woman said.

"The security coming in here was phenomenal -- a presence every corner. It's very appreciated," a man said.

"There were cops from the entrance all the way up here, so we felt pretty good another that," another added.

Residents who live along the parade route were grateful for the heightened security.

"I think it's all good that they're putting extra police and security. We're always a little concerned, it's a popular block. I think they're doing a good job," one man said.

"They're there, but you don't feel like it's really on top of you. So it doesn't get in the way of enjoying what's happening," another man added.

As Grymes reported, this was all Part 1 of a massive Thanksgiving operation for the NYPD. Part 2 will be Thursday's annual parade.

"There is no credible or specific threat against the parade," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday night.

It all comes just weeks after a deadly terror attack in Lower Manhattan, where authorities say Sayfullo Saipov drove a truck down a West Side bike path.

Thursday, people can expect to see numerous sand trucks and other blocker vehicles protecting spectators along the parade route.

"You will see thousands of uniformed personnel tomorrow, keeping us safe. There will be long gun teams, too," said NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.

Officers will be watching from above, as well.

"We have people at high posts. We have people -- observation teams. There will be sniper teams in and around. We will have undercover assets in a lot of different buildings," Monahan said. "So there's going to be a lot you can see out there and a lot you won't see."

The NYPD said it has also been working with hotels to train staffers on what to look for after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas. In October, a gunman opened fire from a hotel room on a country music festival.

Despite the fears, many out Wednesday said they felt confident in the NYPD.

"Craziest security it's ever been, but you know what, thank you NYPD for keeping us safe. We feel great," said Rita Andrini, of Sparta, New Jersey.

Police remind the public, as always, if you see something, say something.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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