News Releases

FWC names Rich Wilcox its Officer of the Year

News Release

Friday, March 19, 2010

Media contact: Katie Fojtik, 850-459-6585

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers are an elite group. They hold positions many can only dream about. In fact, only a few prospects make the cut to protect the state's fish and wildlife resources.

To be named the top cop among this select group is an honor even fewer have known. Officer Richard "Rich" Wilcox, of the agency's Northeast Region, joined this elite group when the FWC named him Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for 2010.

Wilcox, 40, is a five-year veteran of the FWC, with a reputation as a tenacious, skilled officer whom outlaws prefer to avoid. One landowner in Wilcox's patrol area described him this way: "If he is on your trail, you might as well give up, because he won't quit until he catches you."

The same skill and tenacity that make Wilcox so good at cracking fish and wildlife cases are why a Putnam County woman who was missing for a week last September is alive today. Search-and-rescue personnel had nearly given up trying to find the 21-year-old woman when Wilcox spotted a key piece of evidence, which turned out to be her sweatshirt.

Using keen tracking and investigative techniques, Wilcox searched the thick, inhospitable area by ATV and finally found the woman severely dehydrated, covered with insect bites and near death. He immediately began performing first aid, covered her with the shirt off his back and radioed his location to the other rescuers.

For that, he received the agency's prestigious "Lifesaving Award."  He was happy about the honor, but for Wilcox it's less about him and more about the teamwork this job takes.  In fact, when he learned he had been named this year's officer of the year, he said, "I have to get out now and shake a lot of hands, because I've got a lot of officers to thank for this. It is a team effort."

Wilcox began his career with the FWC in 2005, after serving in the Marine Corps. First assigned to the agency's Southwest Region, he now works in St. Johns County in the Northeast Region. Wilcox built a variety of criminal cases in one year that might take others an entire career to accomplish, including taking deer at night, trespassing, possessing gopher tortoises, possessing oversized redfish, hunting dove over bait, and commercial harvest of redfish sold at local restaurants.

Lt. Ben Allen, Wilcox's supervisor, pointed out that selecting an officer of the year would be simple if numbers alone could measure it. That is not the case, though.

"What makes one officer rise even higher than the other exceptional candidates are the intrinsic qualities," Allen said. "Though these qualities are hard to define, they are evident in the dedication Officer Wilcox displays. Each and every day he goes to work and truly tries to make a difference."

Wilcox's passion for the job has led him to participate in community activities as well. He has taught hunter safety courses, led hunt club meetings and participated in events like the St. Johns County Safety Expo, Cattleman's Cracker Day and National Marina Day Water Safety Expo.

"Wilcox takes ownership in his area and prides himself on being available. He even gives out thousands of business cards with his personal cell phone number so the public in his area can reach him at all times," Allen said.

In January 2009, even though he was on annual leave for the birth of his fourth child, Wilcox acted quickly on a tip about night-hunting poachers killing a spotted fawn. Because of his availability, quick action and superb training, Wilcox brought down a ring of illegal hunters who were harvesting deer to sell the meat.  After a three-month investigation, he arrested eight suspects on 88 violations.

In April and May 2009, Wilcox developed a confidential informant and eventually arrested an individual who was shooting deer at night and trading the meat for drugs.  In addition, the FWC charged the suspect with possession of gopher tortoises and a red-shouldered hawk.

In December 2009, Wilcox was involved in another rescue effort. A deer hunter had fallen out of his tree stand and became entangled by his legs, hanging upside down. Wilcox's quick thinking and familiarity with the area helped save the man's life. He led rescuers to the area and used another nearby tree stand to climb the tree and rescue the man. The St. Johns County Fire Rescue Department is now using a videotape of Wilcox's rescue as a training aid.

With all of these accomplishments and commendations, Wilcox is surprisingly modest. His supervisors acknowledge that he is very well-known in his region, but they also call him humble and soft-spoken. He excels as an officer not for the glory, but truly for the love of the job.

"Wilcox's enthusiasm and dedication to service are clearly represented in his accomplishments in 2009 and throughout his career," said Nick Wiley, FWC executive director. "He is the ideal FWC Officer of the Year."

Wilcox clearly stood out to the selection committee, but he is not alone in his excellent qualities. This year's nominees are an impressive testament to the quality of the FWC's Division of Law Enforcement. They include Steve Golden, Jason Cooke, Sandra Blackburn, Arnold McMillion and Michael Naujoks.

FWC Facts:
Florida bass build nests for spawning and protect their young until they reach about 1 inch in size.

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