Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Specialist Elisha Cernuto received the 2023 Shikar-Safari Officer of the Year award at the Commission Meeting in Jensen Beach today. Shikar-Safari Club International is a conservation-based organization that presents awards annually to wildlife law enforcement officers in all states, provinces and territories in the United States and Canada. The annual award honors a state officer whose efforts show outstanding performance and achievement among sworn conservation law enforcement personnel. 

Born and raised in Kentucky, Cernuto moved to Florida after graduating from high school. She joined the FWC in 2016 after serving in the United States Coast Guard and working for the City of Palm Beach Gardens as a police dispatcher.   

As a lead field training officer, Officer Cernuto collaborated with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, drug recognition experts and an FWC boating accident investigator expert to develop a mentoring program for new officers. The program establishes the importance of the FWC’s public safety mission regarding boating under the influence. She also serves as the BUI Task Force leader for her region. 

“I think the most difficult part of receiving any award is thanking everyone you have such a debt of gratitude to, especially when you are surrounded by such a great team. They have been so supportive of all the goals we had on our BUI Task Force,” said Officer Cernuto. “I would be remiss not to thank Senior Investigator Kyle Patterson. 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.” 

Officer Specialist Cernuto deployed for hurricanes Irma, Michael and Ian. During her Hurricane Ian deployment, she played an integral role in overcoming technology communication challenges. Her coordinated approach and experience provided critical information to officers responding to welfare checks and other high priority tasks. 

In 2022, in addition to her many duties, specialty positions, outreach involvement, awards and accomplishments, she participated in four and organized six targeted enforcement details. Cernuto made two major night hunting cases and maintained control of a BUI suspect’s vessel and crew while coordinating a response to capture the subject after his attempt to flee. 

“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,” said Col. Brian Smith, director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement. “It is an honor to present her with this award.” 

When not on duty, Cernuto spends time outdoors with her husband and son. She especially enjoys cycling, hiking and reading and is an active youth leader, facilities maintenance volunteer and Sunday school teacher at her church.   

To learn more about becoming an FWC officer, visit MyFWC.com/GetInvolved and click on “Employment” then “FWC Officers.”