Nothing says 'Happy Holidays' like pepper spray lipstick and mini-surveillance cameras

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Carlos Crespo opens a display case in the office/showroom of his Rose Guardian store on the 11th floor of Cleveland's City Club Building. The ring he carefully removes from what appears to be a velvet pouch is similar in appearance to the slightly ornate wedding bands sold by the jewelers and diamond merchants on the floors below. But Crespo's rings are not about romance, and the majority of purchasers are women who slip them on their fingers before a first date, not after a long courtship. The difference is the tiny opening and almost invisible switch. If a seemingly nice guy turns aggressive, angle the ring toward his face and the same pepper spray used by law- enforcement officers blasts out and disables the attacker. It comes in gold or silver.

Welcome to Rose Guardian, a store for legal, non-lethal weapons almost as much fun as those created by Q for 007 — but causing much less permanent damage.

Ladies are especially welcome. The packaging of products like the Blush Brush (pink, blue, black and chrome, $9.99) is similar to that of the high-end lipsticks sold at Saks and Nordstrom. Instead of adding come-hither color to your lips, you open the top, press the trigger and the unwanted attentions of a dangerously aggressive suitor are repelled by pepper spray. Or choose the red, black, silver or gold Blush Brush stun gun ($34.99). When you touch the attacker anywhere on his body, it releases 350,000 volts, dropping him instantly. A special strap assures that if the attacker grabs it before it can be used, it's rendered inoperable.

The cell phone doesn't text, surf the web or even receive calls. It too is a stun gun, though this one delivers a full million volts ($59.99, in red or black).

Crespo's been in the security business for a little more than six and a half years. He started by selling and installing residential and business security systems before he and his partner decided to offer pepper spray primarily for women. Today, Surveillance Systems Guardian protects homes and offices, while Rose Guardian ( offers products for self-protection. They're intended for women but can be used by men as well. Demand for surveillance devices is booming too.

"There's a lot of employee theft since the economy has gone down," says Crespo. "Maybe they're just not given enough hours, they're not making enough money."

On local Chinese restaurant, so successful that the owner had little idea how much profit was being made, had an employee who supplemented her paycheck by pocketing money from the register. The owner knew something was wrong but not the details.

"So he called us, and we installed a pinhole camera in a ceiling tile over the cash register," says Crespo. "After reviewing the footage, come to find out that the cashier was stealing over $200 per day. The owner did nothing for a week so the provable thefts would become a felony. Then we came in and burned a disk for the detectives. She had been making $1,500 a week plus her paycheck — more than the owner."

The new generation of audio/video surveillance devices has changed the security industry.

"Parents want to know what their teenagers are doing when they're not home," says Crespo. "It's not that they don't trust their teenagers in most cases. They don't trust their children's friends. And then there are the homes that have cleaning services — they don't know who's there, and things come up missing."

He also mentions the growing market for soon-to-be-divorcing couples where one of the spouses wants to prove the other is committing adultery. "We're going to be opening up an online store strictly for infidelity," he adds.

"We can customize almost anything," says Crespo, displaying a golf ball-size, motion-triggered, digital-video camera that can record for eight hours on the tiny rechargeable battery. The cameras have been installed in furniture, cookie jars, clocks, cereal boxes, cleaning-supply containers — almost anything else the client doesn't mind having altered. The footage can be watched on any computer with Windows Media Player or the equivalent.

One business client kept files with proprietary secrets in an off-limits room.

"One of the employees was accessing the files without permission," says Crespo. "We put a self-contained camera in a regular plastic coffee mug, another in a pen holder and a third in a tissue box. You could use the mug for coffee, and there were tissues in the box. He was caught almost immediately."

But Rose Guardian's fun stuff is the items offered for personal protection. Downtown Cleveland has more than 10,000 people living in apartments and condos. Many are singles who work late, shop late and negotiate unattended parking lots. Some are involved with the dating scene where a friendly co-worker who seemed desirable in the office takes on a different personality with a few beers and the wrong idea about his date.

Crespo has a product for joggers and runners: The Hot Walker (pink, black or teal, $24.99) is a one-pound weight with holding strap and a hidden refillable canister of pepper spray, perfect for dealing with muggers and loose dogs. All pepper-spray items use the same ingredients that police carry. It is effective for up to 45 minutes. Bear spray, now legal in all national parks, can be special-ordered.

The secretary being sexually harassed can buy a working ballpoint pen that contains a digital voice recorder good for 64 hours of discrete recording of her boss' indiscretions ($169.99). Those who want to multi-task while recording can get the pink-banded ladies' watch ($169.99) with 18-hour digital voice recorder, MP3 player, stereo earphones and rechargeable battery. (A larger man's silver watch is the same price and has the same features). And if you have to work late with that lecherous boss, an expensive-looking (but non-functional) black pen will blast 12 feet of pepper spray and leave the startled employer covered with UV dyes the prosecutor will love ($9.99).

The Palm Defender, which holds your keys on one end, is a non-lethal weapon fitted with a refillable pepper spray. You can strike with the handle, slash with your keys or disable with the spray, all helpful against the date who walks you to your door and then decides you should get better acquainted than you'd like ($33.99).

For those who cannot bring themselves to even temporarily hurt another human being, there are disorienting high-pitched noisemakers ($9.99 to $14.99). They may not draw a crowd of strangers to your defense, but they are louder than even the best smoke detectors and painful to be near.

The only self-defense device that is restricted is the Taser, similar to the one carried by law enforcement officials except for the color scheme (Red Hot, Awareness Pink, Electric Blue, Titanium Silver, Metallic Pink, Black Pearl and Leopard). You can buy one, but only after a criminal background check.

Perhaps novelist Les Roberts should have Milan Jacovich pay the City Club building a visit.

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