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Cities strengthen security ahead of return of crowded New Year’s Eve celebrations

<i>Barry Williams/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service/Getty Images</i><br/>NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell at a security briefing on December 30 said authorities are prepared for the unexpected.
Barry Williams/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell at a security briefing on December 30 said authorities are prepared for the unexpected.

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Major cities including New York and Chicago are preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations, and part of the festivity preparations will include strengthened security measures.

In New York City, crowds are expected to return to full capacity for New Year’s Eve for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Times Square Alliance President Tom Harris told CNN.

“We’re most excited to welcome people back, we’re most excited that we are returning to our new normal,” Harris said Friday on “CNN This Morning.”

“We’re most excited that the whole world at midnight is going to turn to Times Square to see that ball drop, so that we can look forward to 2023.”

While there are no specific credible threats to New York City or its planned New Year’s Eve celebrations, authorities are prepared for the unexpected, New York City Police Department Commissioner Keechant Sewell said Friday at a security briefing.

“Our intelligence analysts, working very closely with the FBI and joint terrorism task force, will be monitoring all streams for any kind of threats that may be coming in,” NYPD Chief of Intelligence and Counterterrorism Thomas Galati said during the news conference, adding there will be “an abundance of protective measures in place.”

The NYPD expects to deploy K-9 teams and explosives and drone detections, and “multilayered screening by our counterterrorism officers posted at every checkpoint” will be employed, Galati said. Several access points will allow the public to enter the event in Times Square. Prohibited items include umbrellas, chairs, blankets, backpacks, and alcohol, NYPD Assistant Chief James McCarthy said.

Protective measures will also include a heavy weapons teams, bomb squad, and teams monitoring more than 1,000 cameras, according to Galati.

“At this time, there are no specific credible threats to New York City or any of our events surrounding New Year’s Eve,” Sewell said. “That said, I ask the members of the public to always remain vigilant.”

The NYPD and local public safety agencies will have “a visible presence but at the same time they’re going to be among the crowd so that people don’t know exactly who’s present,” Sewell added.

Along with “thousands of uniformed police officers” at the Times Square event, additional officers will be assigned to patrol all neighborhoods, streets, and subways, Sewell said.

“We have been working for the last 364 days with the City of New York, with our production team, with our partners at Countdown Entertainment, for this moment, when we can welcome everyone back to Times Square,” said Harris, who heads the not-for-profit group responsible for organizing the annual New Year’s Eve celebration.

On New Year’s Eve 2021, the annual Times Square celebration took place, but the outdoor event was restricted to people who showed proof of vaccination. In 2020, the usual countdown and famous ball drop happened, but no crowds were allowed on the streets.

In Chicago, strengthened security precautions will also be in place for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The Chicago Police Department will deploy an extra 1,300 police officers to ensure neighborhoods and high traffic areas are “covered and safe,” as the city readies for celebrations, according to Police Superintendent David Brown.

The department has developed a “comprehensive security plan” for the fireworks event at Navy Pier and officers will be visible in all retail corridors and residential areas of the city, Brown said. Officers will also be assigned on foot and bike throughout Chicago’s entertainment district and across the city.

“We’ll be doing everything we can to keep everyone safe, but we need our residents and visitors to do everything they can as well to celebrate responsibly. Look out for each other as well, and if you see anything suspicious or unsafe, please call 911,” the superintendent said, emphasizing celebratory gunfire is illegal in Chicago.

After mass shooting and deadly blizzard, Buffalo celebrates

Every new year begins with celebrations throughout the world, crowds full of loved ones marking the beginning of a new chapter under a night sky lit up by fireworks.

But as the US wraps up a year stained with tragedies and inconceivable loss, celebrations will not come easy for everyone.

There have been at least 646 mass shootings in 2022, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit tracking gun violence incidents across the country. This makes 2022 the second-highest year for mass shootings in the United States on record.

The year’s violence included back-to-back massacres, including at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia; and a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub.

In Buffalo, where a 19-year-old White man killed 10 people and wounded three in May in a racist attack at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood, entering a new year without many beloved community members will weigh heavily.

A week after another tragedy — the historic blizzard which left dozens of residents dead — Buffalo will go ahead as planned with New Year’s Eve celebrations, including their annual ball drop.

“This year’s Ball Drop will be more reflective,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said in a news conference. “2022 was a challenging year, and we will acknowledge that. It was a painful year for all of us. And we move forward into 2023 as a resilient community.”

The city will celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Electric Tower in downtown Buffalo, and festivities will include “moments of reflections, moments of prayer, moments of recognition,” the mayor said, adding thousands are expected to attend.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Travis Nichols, Zenebou Sylla and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.

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