NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The annual J’Ouvert festival kicked off early Monday ahead of the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, but amid the colorful floats and costumes were plenty of police officers.

“We know that we are safe, so that’s good. There’s more security this year than last year,” said Alasia Willingham.

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The festivities, which traditionally began overnight, started at 6 a.m. The change was made last year as part of an effort to curb the shootings and violence that previously overshadowed the event.

“Like last year, the parade route will be closed to the public the night before,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week. 

This year, police have 13 secured entry points – one more than last year – where people will be screened for weapons and alcohol. The mayor said there will also be more than 300 light towers in place along the two-mile route and neighboring streets.

“It’s not just going to be light towers on the parade route, but in some cases, on the surrounding blocks as well to create a safer environment,” he said.

Most participants say in addition to police, those in attendance play a key role in ensuring each other’s safety.

“The only thing that’s really going to stop the violence is the people. There’s no amount of security cops can actually do, has nothing to do with it,” said Crown Heights resident Nyomie Monier.

“The atmosphere is always good, so anybody that is going to try to hurt the parade in any way, the law have to do what it’s supposed to do,” participant Oswald Black said.

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Nearly half a million people were expected at J’Ouvert, plus another million at the 51st annual West Indian Day Parade, which began at 11 a.m. on Eastern Parkway.

“The food, the music, the vibe,” said spectator Shanaya Fredick.

“Beautiful ladies, beautiful costumes,” vendor Jermaine Harvey said.

“It’s nice to share the culture with people. This is a day that unites everybody,” said vendor Rose Hill.

“It’s all about being prideful,” vendor Jessica Sinclair added. “We’re here in America, we all want the American Dream. But today, it’s all about bursting out and representing where you’re from and who you are.”

Speaking before the parade, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to turn the Bedford Armory into a community and recreation center named after Carey Gabay.

Gabay, an aide to the governor, was killed when he was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting during J’Ouvert three years ago.

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By 10 a.m. Monday, police said one person had been shot about five blocks from parade route, though it’s unclear where the shooting was tied to the event. A 26-year-old man suffered minor injuries following a dispute with another man around 8 a.m. on Nostrand Avenue.