have made catching the Hazelwood Drive arsonist a top priority, dedicating an officer to the case full time, but residents' new neighborhood watch group could prove invaluable in making an arrest, police said.
Plainfield Officer Mark Siegel and Detective Dino Dabezic told Hazelwood and Ironwood Drive neighbors Wednesday night that they must for people and things that look suspicious, keep an eye on each other's property -- and call the police, no matter how small the issue might seem.
"We really don't know what belongs, and we really don't know what doesn't belong," Siegel told the residents gathered in a home on Ironwood Drive, which is adjacent to Hazelwood. "You do."
Does technology like motion sensors and cameras help keep would-be criminals away from property? Yes, Siegel said. But so do common-sense actions, such as making sure your car and garage are locked, not leaving valuable items in your vehicle and turning on your porch lights at night.
The -- or arsonists -- last struck on Jan. 8, when they set fires inside one car parked in an open garage and two others parked in driveways. Prior to that, he/they are believed to have set fires in a car inside a garage on Christmas Day and in a car parked in a driveway on New Year's Eve.
In each case, the vechicle was left unlocked and no items were stolen.
"These offenders definitely would not have been able to (set these fires) if the cars were locked," Dabezic said.
For that reason, it's possible the suspects have stopped their attacks because people are locking their property and being watchful, the officers said.
Then again, perhaps they know it's easier to get caught when you can leave footprints in the snow or mud or they look more out of place walking around when the temperatures are cold. Or it could be possible the culprits are laying low, waiting for residents to let down their guard, the officers said.
Regardless of whether another fire is set or not, Dabezic said he's running down dozens of leads every day, including some supplied by neighbors who have observed suspicious people and written down license plate numbers and car descriptions.
And residents must remain watchful and organized. That's where a neighborhood watch is a good idea -- knowing your neighbors and communicating with them about things in the neighborhood may not always stop crime, but it can help deter it in some situations, Siegel said.
The officers also lauded the Web site created by resident Mike Bjorklund, which is accessible only to local residents and provides a venue where neighbors can post notes, write blogs, and list phone numbers and email addresses. (Disclosure: Bjorklund is also a freelance writer for Plainfield Patch.)
Bjorklund said that while the reason neighbors have gotten together is not a happy one, some good has come out of the experience as well.
"Before this started, I didn't know 90 percent of you in this room," he joked, as residents began talking about organizing a block party in the summer.
In the meantime, Dabezic said he'll continue to track every lead that might get the police closer to making an arrest.
"This is my No. 1 priority," he said. "Everything else is on the back burner for me."