By Peter D'Oench

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — An off-duty officer was in the right place at the right time before stumbling on a group of suspected car burglars and now authorities have released body-cam footage of the take down.

“Get on the ground right now! Get on the ground or I’m gonna shoot you,” cops are heard shouting at the startled suspects, allegedly caught in the act.

It all went down early Wednesday at an apartment building near S.W. 59th Avenue and 75th Street.

Elio Romero, 19, Christopher DeLeon, 18, and a 16-year-old accomplice are now facing several charges, including burglary.

“Hope it makes an example of what’s going on, the crimes that are committed,” said victim Jennifer Torres.

Police said Romero and the others tried to break into Torres’ car and burglarized five other vehicles, looking for ones that were left unlocked.

“As soon as I saw them get out of the car I got really excited and I knew exactly what they were doing,” said off-duty officer, Capt. John Barzola. “They were car hopping.”

It was about 1:40 a.m. when Capt. Barzola spotted four suspects getting out of a stolen Jeep Cherokee. Moments later, they were taken down.

“As police officers, that’s our job, no, our duty, and that’s what most of us live for, to catch the bad guys,” Barzola said.

Investigations like these can often hit a wall and lead to frustration for both law enforcement and victims.

“We get so many of these crimes, and often they go unsolved, and we don’t know who did it,” said South Miami Police Capt. Larry Corbin. “Now we know who did it and we have them in custody.”

Police showed off the dozens of items confiscated from the suspects that they believe were taken in other similar crimes: a watch, cell phone chargers, a backpack, a New York Giants cap and cologne, to name a few.

“That’s actually scary that a lot of people leave stuff in their cars and people are not aware that they should take everything out of their cars, and make sure nothing is visible for people who want to break into their cars,” said Torres.

For years, South Miami Police have warned about a sharp increase in car-hopping crimes.

“These crimes often occur between 1 o’clock and 5 o’clock in the morning and we want people to lock their doors, obviously, and don’t leave items in plain view,” said Capt. Corbin. “You should get them out of your vehicle.”

Oddly enough, Capt. Barzola noticed that the suspects went out of their way to make sure their stolen Jeep was locked while they were out looking for unlocked vehicles.

South Miami Police Chief Rene Landa told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that he’s reaching out to the police departments in Pinecrest, Coral Gables and the surrounding areas to see if the suspects have struck in their cities.

A fourth suspect got away.


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