SOUTH MIAMI(CBS4) – South Miami Police are warning the public about car burglars working in teams; and they are releasing new surveillance tape that shows what Interim Police Chief Rene Landa is calling a “nationwide problem.”

“What you’re seeing on this tape is part of nationwide problem from South Miami to so many citites,” said Landa. “So we are starting a new operation, Lock Your doors to keep what’s Yours. We want the public to be aware of what they can do to protect themselves.”

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“Some of these individuals can hit 300 cars in one night,” said South Miami Police Sgt. Henry Guzman in an exclusive interview with CBS4’s Peter D’Oench.

The surveillance tape shows one disturbing incident from 1 a.m. on November 10th in the area of Southwest 64th Street and 65th Avenue, said Guzman. The tape from homeowners’ security cameras showed a teenager or young man walking down the street and entering a driveway. The young man then tried to open the doors of cars that are unlocked.

He is not alone.

Suddenly, a car drives by, followed by two young people on foot. Within seconds, the tape shows another car driving by, with as many as four people inside it. Another home’s security cameras shows one person entering an unlocked vehicle, scouring it with a flashlight, taking items and quickly leaving.

“One car is a Honda Civic. The other car is a Nissan Sentra,” said Guzman. “These people appear to be between 16 and 21 and they will take anything from the car, from chargers to your iPod to chargers, car chargers.”

Guzman said a number of people seen on the surveillance tape have been arrested by South Miami and Coral Gables police but he told D’Oench that detectives were still looking for at least four of the subjects.

“Our campaign, our operation right now in South Miami is Lock Your Doors to keep what’s yours,” said Guzman. “It’s very important that we all do this. Over 40 per cent of vehicle burglaries can be reduced by locking your doors. These people working in teams is something we are seeing more of in the past year or two since people often don’t lock their cars, it is easy to get in and get out.”

Often criminals do not want to break windows to get in to cars, said Guzman.

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“One thing these cats don’t want to do is bring attention to themselves at 1 o’clock in the morning. The last thing they want to do is that,” he said. “So they go car hopping, which we are seeing more and more of. They go block to block. They don’t break windows a lot because they don’t want to leave their DNA. They watch these crime shows, like CSI Miami. They want to leave as little evidence as they can.”

CBS4 also showed the new surveillance video to Alex Leeds of South Miami, whose family cars have been broken into several times recently. She admitted she had left her car unlocked and wanted the public to be aware of how people should be careful.

Studying the tape with CBS4, she said. “It’s very upsetting because these are young kids and this has happened to us and especially when this happens late at night and your family is sleeping. We’ve been locking our cars now but you never know. People should be aware, especially at this time of year what they are leaving in their cars and how they should lock their cars and always be on the alert.”

Leeds said, “To have someone come up to your driveway and up to your personal property and break into your car, it is just upsetting.”

She said. “This has been very upsetting because it has happened in our neighborhood and it happens in other people’s neighborhoods.”

Sgt. Guzman said it did not appear that any of the car burglars were carrying guns with them. But he said they could have other weapons with them.

He said one of the suspects seen on the surveillance tape was arrested after another, unrelated burglary. He said when that suspect was arrested, he had brass knuckles and a knife with him.

Guzman said that anyone who recognizes any of the subjects on the tape or who can help solve this case should call either South Miami Police at (305) 663-6301 or Miami-Dade Crimestoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).

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Authorities say even if you do lock your car doors, you should store valuable items in your trunk. They say don’t hide valuable items under coats and hide the items before you park as burglars often watch parking lots.

Peter D'Oench