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Crowds watch as Christmas tree lights up Jacksonville Landing

Jacksonville police in for Christmas tree lighting, boat parade

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Families gathered at The Jacksonville Landing on Friday to watch as 78,000 lights brightened the night during the 32nd Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office were patrolling the area to make sure everyone stayed safe. The lighting happened about three months after a deadly shooting at a game bar inside The Landing.

Although many said they felt safe, there were some, like Lori Hill, who had concerns given the recent violence.

"This is a public event with a large crowd," Hill said. "It did go through my mind."

Jacksonville police officers conducted foot patrols both before and during event to make sure no one was getting out of hand. There were also security guards moving through the crowds looking for anything suspicious.

Despite the previous violence that claimed lives at The Landing, this was still a night for people to go out and have a good time.

"This is a festive night," Hill said. "We want to come down and support Jacksonville and support The Landing."

Extra police will be on hand along the Northbank and Southbank for Saturday's boat parade, which also draws very large crowds all along the river.

"We always plan for the worst and hope for the best. And that’s all we ask everyone to do," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda. "We want everybody to keep your eyes and ears peeled. If they hear talk of anything prior to the event, during the event or see anything suspicious, contact police, reach out to us. We need that information and help from the community to make sure it’s a very safe event for everyone involved."

A spokeswoman for the city said Mayor Lenny Curry decided to move the Light Boat Parade back to its initial presentation, which the Saturday after Thanksgiving, after two years of it taking place on News Year's Eve.

The spokeswoman wrote in an email to News4Jax that the city expects more than 50 boats to participate and a crowd of more than 20,000 on both the Northbank and Southbank of the river for the boat parade.

The Sheriff's Office said the Main Street Bridge will close at 5:30 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. Boat Parade . The Acosta Bridge will close at 8:30 p.m. Officers reminded visitors they can not stand on the bridges to watch the parade or the fireworks, which will start at 9 p.m.

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