Though by no means a regular occurrence, such incidents are anything but rare, says Tahir Shabbir, owner of Prima Pizza & Subs in Essex. One of the shop's drivers was robbed at gunpoint for $70 in September.

Shabbir, who sometimes makes deliveries himself, says he was robbed a few years back and has narrowly escaped trouble on three or four other occasions.

To Shabbir's surprise, the robbery took place in a relatively affluent neighborhood. As he approached the house, several assailants jumped out from behind a row of trees, flashing a gun.

That drove home a point he shares with all his drivers — that you can never assume you're safe.

"Every time I take a delivery, I look to the right, I look to the left, I look over my shoulder. I feel as though someone is coming after me. You have to," he says.

Nationwide statistics on such incidents are hard to come by. But when concerned drivers banded together six years ago to form a union, the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers, leaders of that movement spent several months combing news accounts from across America to explore trends.

According to tipthepizzaguy.com — the organization's website — police report one or two assaults against pizza drivers somewhere in the nation every day, and for every such crime reported, as many as 10 are committed.

A quick search of recent headlines suggests the estimate isn't out of line: delivery drivers have been assaulted in Dallas, Denver, San Antonio, Houston, Charleston, S.C., Boston and New York City over the past six months, according to news accounts.

One driver was murdered in a May ambush in St. Louis.

"Oh, heck yes, it's dangerous," says Michael Tiffany, a former leader of the union, which folded in 2009. "I've been attacked at least a dozen times. I've had guns pulled on me. I've had my lip split. I've escaped many more situations than that. You never know when it's coming."

The website codifies plenty of useful information. Attacks have an average of 2.2 assailants, for instance, and their average age is 19 — which means drivers should be alert for pairs of young men loitering near delivery sites, Tiffany says.

In addition, about 30 percent of robberies are spur-of-the-moment crimes, which means it's more dangerous for drivers to carry advertising "toppers" or signs on their cars.

"I give my people toppers, but I don't require them to use them," Shabbir says. "Most choose not to."

Experts say it's crucial for everyone involved to think ahead. The union website advises pizzerias to do call-backs to verify any order, for example, and to decline any order placed from a number that can't be traced. (Criminals often give a dummy address, then lie in wait nearby.)

It also tells drivers to carry less than $50 in cash, to park as near to a customer's address as possible, to avoid delivering to unlit or vacant houses, and to remain in the car — with doors locked — and call inside if anything seems amiss.

Anjum agrees with that.

"It's far safer if the customer comes out to me," he says. "That way I don't have to walk through dark places. If I don't like what I'm seeing, I can just drive off."

In his time on the job, Anjum says he has learned the nuances of his area, a portion of South Baltimore and northern Anne Arundel County known for high crime rates.

He swaps jovial banter with many regulars, and at each of his more than 20 stops, he knows well ahead of time whether he has visited the address before.

Pulling up to one unfamiliar building, he says he must be especially wary. It sits on a corner and is not especially well-lit, a combination that means attackers could be hiding just out of view.

He gets on his cellphone, calls inside and this time gets an answer. He grabs the hot bag, carries it to the front door and makes a businesslike exchange. He returns with a smile on his face.

He has received a $5 tip, a good one for this route, he says, and during the current economic downturn, it's a welcome amount.

But in this line of work, he tries to remember that money isn't everything, a fact that has become even more apparent over recent weeks.

"I always remember that something can go wrong," he says, steering the old sedan back into traffic. "I was looking over my shoulder that whole time."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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