When Philadelphia's murder total fell to a historic low in 2013, officials believed it was no fluke.
Now, with 2014 at the same rate - and other violence also down - experts say the city is indeed getting safer.
With 248 slain, the toll is one above last year's - and a 25 percent drop from 2012. But statistics show police in 2014 solved fewer killings than in 2013.
Overall, violent crime fell 7 percent.
The number of people who were shot but survived fell to 1,047 this year from 1,128 in 2013, down 7 percent.
The drop in gun violence carried over to every major violent crime category other than homicide. Armed robberies fell 2 percent and aggravated assaults with a gun, 7 percent. Robberies and assaults without guns also fell.
Nationally, homicides and violent crimes have steadily gone down over the last decade, according to the most recent FBI figures.
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey attributed the citywide drop in crime to a sustained strategy focused on data-driven policing that targets known offenders, community outreach, and accountability - from officers working foot patrols to commanders responsible for developing crime-fighting strategies.
"We keep doing what works and we keep making adjustments," Ramsey said.
"Things are obviously significantly better now than they were 10 years ago," said Jerry Ratcliffe, chairman of Temple University's department of criminal justice.
The 247 killed in 2013 marked the lowest city murder tally since 1967, less than half the 500 logged in 1990 at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic.
"We're nowhere near the numbers this city has seen for decades, when 400 was the number before anybody began to really panic," Ramsey said.
"I don't believe we're as low as we can go," he said, saying he thought Philadelphia could get to fewer than 200 a year.
The rate at which killings were solved dropped nearly 12 percentage points, however, from 70 percent in 2013 to 58.5 percent.
On Jan. 1, 2014, the department instituted new interrogation policies requiring police to remind witnesses they may leave at any time, prompting some investigators to complain that it would make it more difficult to solve violent crimes.
Ramsey said that he did not believe the directive was responsible for the lower solution rate and that the unit's clearance rate was still above the average for other major cities.
"Sometimes you just don't have a good year," he said.
Philadelphia's decline in murders reflects a trend in many of the nation's cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
"I think police around the country, particularly in the larger cities, have become increasing savvy, increasingly sophisticated, in the way they do their patrols," said Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on criminal justice.
Police here credit data-driven policing and targeted strategies such as "Focused Deterrence," identifying key gang members in South Philadelphia.
"I think it's a good program," said Ed McCann, First Assistant District Attorney. "There's no one strategy that works throughout the city."
About half the city's police districts saw fewer murders and shootings in 2014.
The Nicetown section of Northwest Philadelphia saw the biggest increase, from 11 to 25. Nicetown had 27 killings in 2012, so the jump was a return to previous levels.
McCann credits police as working more closely with prosecutors than ever before and increasing cooperation with schools.
"Very exciting things are going on," said Robert Brown, executive director of PAAN, a Philadelphia antidrug and anti-youth-violence group in North Philadelphia.
Police are having success identifying juveniles, first-time offenders of low-level crimes, and steering them to community groups such as PAAN rather than prison, Brown said.
"Keep them alive until 25, and keep them from killing people" is the grim slogan used by Brown and his staff.
The facts support it.
The vast majority of victims were African American males, and one-third of the victims were between 18 and 34. Most of the killings stemmed from arguments, robberies, or drugs.
But it's not just the killings that destroy a neighborhood.
Criminologists say shootings are a better measure of a city's safety, because they occur in greater numbers. Police also work hard to keep illegal guns off the streets.
Some shootings could have been fatal, but for reasons largely outside the control of police - if the timing or location had been different, or if the shooter was a better marksman.
"The difference between an aggravated assault and a homicide is how quickly you can get the person to the hospital," Ratcliffe says.
McCann said he had seen a cultural shift in court and on the streets when it comes to guns. Gone are the days of low bail and quick release on a gun charge.
"The streets know, if you get caught with a gun you're going to jail," he said.
The year began badly, with 26 killings in January.
One of the victims was Amber Long, 26, shot to death in front of her mother in a Northern Liberties purse-snatching.
By April, relative peace had returned. The nine people killed were the fewest in one month since 1990, the earliest reliable monthly totals available.
But the summer also saw several ghastly killings.
In July, the body of Laura Araujo, a 23-year-old art student, was found in a duffel bag in an abandoned lot in West Philadelphia. She had been strangled. In August, Keisha Williams, 34, died along with her three children when a carjacker crashed her SUV at high speed in North Philadelphia.
Still, Brown, the community leader, said Philadelphia's lower murder totals each of the last two years was a positive sign for the future.
"I believe the Police Department is beginning to get it right. I really do," Brown said.
"And I'm going to become even more optimistic when I begin seeing greater involvement within the communities, families helping families.
"But I am optimistic."
Ramsey said that a long-term solution to crime in Philadelphia goes beyond policing strategies - including decreasing poverty, improving gun laws, and strengthening schools.
"I'm seeing progress, but not nearly enough to have the long-term impact that Philadelphia is capable of having," he said. "It takes time. It didn't get broken overnight, and it's not going to get fixed overnight. So you have to keep pushing forward."
Inquirer staff writer Mike Newall contributed to this article.