In the current economic climate, there is increasing pressure upon government to find ways to tighten their belt. A favorite target is public safety, which has been portrayed in the media as having a lot of free time. Since convincing elected officials that much of that so-called free time is often taken up in ongoing training and other activities (Who does maintenance and janitorial tasks at a firehouse? The firefighters.) is an uphill battle, public safety is often cut, risking not only the safety of the citizens, but also increasing their direct costs by changing their insurance premiums due to a change in ISO rating (http://www.isomitigation.com/ppc/0000/ppc0001.html). Another tactic is to invest in the creation of multifunctional personnel. This tactic isn’t new. Many public safety agencies have taken on multiple duties over time.
The most classic example if this phenomenon is still taking place and has been very painful for both the fire and EMS agencies, as they are combined over the protests of many of their members. Yet that particular blending results in a reasonably good fit. Other than each task reducing the availability of the rescuer for the other, there is little conflict. On the other hand, there have been some agencies that have tried to combine the duties of police officers and EMS personnel. Because of the basic conflicts between the instincts needed by a good cop and a good EMT, those experiments have ususally resulted in abject failure. Mexico is currently using a risky tactic that works well in the short term, but has undesireable consequences in the long term. They are using their army to reinforce their police and reduce corruption in certain key cities. The benefit here is that the army has the manpower and lacks the corruption of the police force. The hazard is that it is an easy step from martial law to tyranny.
I can’t say that multifunctionalism is always a bad move. When it works, it can save a government a lot of money, but even when it’s at its best, the more different tasks an employee is required to be competent in, the less expert they will tend to be in each, due to limitations on practice opportunities. This means that effectiveness will drop. The trick is to find the balance of duties that results in the best outcome for the community.