In a ceremony held today during the Commission Meeting in Jensen Beach, Officer Specialist Elisha Cernuto of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was awarded the prestigious 2023 Shikar-Safari Officer of the Year. The accolade, presented by the conservation-focused organization Shikar-Safari Club International, recognizes outstanding performance and achievement among wildlife law enforcement officers across the United States and Canada.
Originally from Kentucky, Cernuto moved to Florida after completing high school. Her journey into law enforcement started in 2016 when she joined the FWC after serving in the United States Coast Guard and working as a police dispatcher in Palm Beach Gardens.
Cernuto’s exceptional leadership was underscored by her role as a lead field training officer. She collaborated with organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, drug recognition experts, and FWC boating accident investigators to establish a mentoring program for new officers. This initiative emphasized the importance of the FWC’s public safety mission concerning boating under the influence (BUI), a cause she passionately champions as the BUI Task Force leader for her region.
Reflecting on her achievement, Cernuto expressed her gratitude, particularly acknowledging Senior Investigator Kyle Patterson for his guidance and mentorship. She stated, “Most of the things that caused me to receive this award were things that Kyle Patterson taught me, so this year and going forward everything that I do is to try and honor his memory.”
Cernuto’s dedication was further highlighted during hurricane deployments, where she played a crucial role in overcoming communication challenges and providing critical information to officers responding to emergencies. In addition to her deployments, she actively participated in multiple enforcement details, major night hunting cases, and maintained control of a BUI suspect’s vessel during a daring capture operation.
Col. Brian Smith, director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement, commended Cernuto’s leadership, stating, “Officer Specialist Cernuto is a standout leader who positively affects every operation and person she works with. Her ability to influence and bring out the best in others displays the best FWC has to offer and creates a culture of success. It is an honor to present her with this award.”
Beyond her duties, Cernuto is dedicated to her family and community. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband and son, engaging in activities such as cycling and hiking. Moreover, she actively volunteers as a youth leader, facilities maintenance volunteer, and Sunday school teacher at her church.