As volunteers join in an organized cleanup of downtown Kent next weekend, local police officers will lend a hand in combating a specific...

As volunteers join in an organized cleanup of downtown Kent next weekend, local police officers will lend a hand in combating a specific kind of trash: graffiti.

Kent Police will help out in the third annual downtown cleanup Saturday, an effort sponsored by the Kent Downtown Partnership. Police will paint over graffiti in several downtown spots, said Kent Police spokesman Paul Petersen.

Away from downtown, Kent Police and volunteers will also target an East Hill strip mall where graffiti and illegal dumping is a problem.

If graffiti is ignored and not painted over, it just encourages vandals, Petersen said.

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“It says to the vandals that the owner here doesn’t care; go ahead and spray paint and mark up my property,” Petersen said.

In an alley behind a strip mall off Benson Road at 236th Street Southeast, old computer monitors and televisions are piled against the back doorways of businesses. Graffiti — including gang monikers and the bubbly lettering characteristic of taggers — covers the walls.

Although some effort has been made to cover the graffiti, most of the words are still visible through a thin layer of paint.

The city does not have an ordinance that mandates property owners paint over graffiti on their property, Petersen said.

Instead, police rely on the “good graces” of private property owners to do their own cleanup, he said.

While police focus on graffiti, volunteers with the Kent Downtown Partnership will be sweeping and picking up trash. Last year’s effort netted 40 bags of garbage, said Jacquie Alexander, executive director of the Kent Downtown Partnership.

“I think it gets better with each year,” Alexander said.

Lauren Vane: 253-234-8604 or lvane@seattletimes.com