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He Sits, He Poses, but Use of $499 Dummy as Bodyguard Gets Mixed Reviews

Times Staff Writer

His name is Gregory. He weighs only 11 pounds, but from the front seat of a car, he looks as big as a professional football player and almost as mean.

The advertisements boast that, if you set him in a chair behind a window, “his presence will protect your home or business while you’re away.”

He doesn’t come cheap, though. Fully clothed, Gregory retails for $499 (without clothing, $449). Local police say he isn’t a bargain at any price and might be more trouble than he’s worth. A spokeswoman for a women’s group says if he makes a woman feel safe, more power to him.

Gregory is a portable mannequin being sold by the Sharper Image, a national chain with stores in La Jolla and Escondido. The store caters largely to an affluent, upwardly mobile clientele, hence the name.

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“A young woman is driving at night along a remote California highway--her three sleeping companions slumped low in their seats,” reads the Gregory ad in this month’s Sharper Image catalogue. “Suddenly, a pickup truck roars out of the darkness and tries to force the car over. The woman screams--waking her passengers, who rise up in alarm. Seeing their victim is not alone, the men in the truck speed away.

“This frightening incident was the inspiration for Gregory--a lifelike, portable mannequin who deters crime by his strong, masculine appearance.”

The store has sold dozens of Gregorys nationwide and several at local stores, even though he’s been available less than a month.

“He’s a silent bodyguard,” said Andrea Breeze, manager of the Sharper Image at North County Fair in Escondido.

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Breeze said her most recent Gregory sale was to an elderly couple who bought him for their daughter, an executive who often drives home alone at night. Breeze said Gregory gets his name from the Greek word gregoros , meaning watchful.

“Gregory’s stern appearance is no accident,” reads the ad. “His rugged cleft chin, square-set jaw, firm expression and broad shoulders telegraph to criminals that this is a man to avoid.

“For complete naturalism, Gregory’s head, arms, shoulders and wrists are fully articulated and can be locked in any position. His hands can hold objects to make it appear he is reading or writing. He is balanced to sit upright in vehicle seats, sofas or chairs.

“Gregory’s head can be changed with cosmetics to any age or race. You can draw in facial lines, add a mustache or beard or remove the included wig. His formed ears permit him to wear sunglasses or eyeglasses.”

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Breeze declined to provide names or phone numbers of customers who had purchased Gregory. She said she was reluctant to do the interview, primarily because local law enforcement agencies have been critical of Gregory.

The Sharper Image, in Breeze’s words, markets Gregory “primarily for women who drive home alone at night. He provides the appearance of a strong male in the car next to the female driver. Or, you can use

him in your home or small business. You can sit him behind the front window and dress him as a security guard.”

Albeit a security guard who never moves. In the freeway lane next to Gregory, it might be possible, even easy, to tell that he’s fake. Would such false protection be an incentive for a would-be assailant, rather than a sure deterrent?

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Dick Toneck, public affairs officer with the SanDiego Police Department, isn’t sure, but recommends not buying Gregory, regardless of the circumstances. He said he had heard of Gregory being used for one illegal purpose as well--as the appearance of a second rider in the car, allowing passage in the coveted car pool lanes to and from work.

“If I was a cop writing a ticket, I’d impound that doll as evidence, and there goes your $500,” Toneck said.

Toneck said that, given the fact that Gregory is no cheap date, a woman worried about driving home alone at night might consider a cellular telephone, or an air horn that would startle “or maybe even scare the pants off a would-be attacker,” or a citizens band radio. He said almost any of these items would be better protection than Gregory, who would be virtually useless in a real confrontation.

“I think if you saw a woman changing a tire by the side of the road, you wouldn’t see a male sitting in the car doing nothing,” Toneck said. “Not that you’d never see it. . . . I just don’t think you would see it. I think a few safety tips and some common sense would work a lot better than Gregory.

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“When you approach your car, have your keys right side up and don’t be fumbling around for them when you’re ready to open your door. The extra time you take could make a difference. Get into the car and then immediately lock it. Know where you are, what’s around you.

“We have no record of the success or failure of these dummies, but they make us uncomfortable. We’re not aware of women being ripped out of their cars by attackers; I don’t think it happens often. It’s an awfully expensive investment for making a person feel safe when you can do so many other things.”

On the Other Hand ...

Laurie Mackenzie, director of the Rape Crisis Center for the Center for Women’s Studies and Services, thinks Gregory may be a good idea. She said anything that makes a woman feel safer is OK by her.

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“It’s a sad commentary when women are in a position of needing to protect themselves in any way, shape or form that they will go to the lengths of buying a dummy to do that,” Mackenzie said. “But, if they feel safer with the dummy in the car, and it does prevent a crime, more power to them.

“Current statistics (which she said were compiled from FBI cases) indicate that one out of every three women in California can expect to be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Whatever a woman needs to do to protect herself, we think she ought to do.

“If a woman is more comfortable with this thing sitting beside her in the front seat, fine, as long as she doesn’t forget the other precautions that anyone ought to take. She’s got to do whatever she needs to do to feel safe. Be alert. Varying your route home from work works sometimes. Trust your guts. If you see something you don’t like, move to the other side of the street.

“Who’s to say, if this device prevents one, two, three, four or five rapes, who can say it’s wrong to have him? That’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it--preventing crime? Who can say that’s bad?”

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