JUNE 2010

First on the Scene

Alan Henney keeps the coast in the know with weekend updates

Interview by Pam George, photo by Scott Nathan

Alan Henney likes to know what is going on — at all times. On a sun-splashed afternoon, he sits on the screened porch of the Rehoboth Beach summer home that he shares with his mother, while three police and emergency response scanners squawk from their perches, broadcasting police and fire company reports. The squeals and distorted voices compete with calls from the birds that flit between the bushes and trees that surround the house.

Henney keeps his ear peeled for a crisis, even at night. “It wakes me up when something happens in town, which is good,” says Henney, a former part-time assignment editor for WUSATV Channel 9 in Washington, D.C. “If anything local happens I want to know about it.”

Henney, who has an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master’s in computer information systems, is the creator of the Rehoboth Weekend Update, a free e-mail bulletin with news about the coastal towns. The service — accessed via — is available to subscribers between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.

In a typical report last year, Henney wrote about the closing of the Rusty Rudder after a fire erupted and the crowd got unruly. In that same report, he wrote about swimmers who ventured too far out into the water, a surprise DUI checkpoint and the Ocean City lifeguard spokesman “Rodney,” who is an actor and not a real lifeguard.

Once the eventful summer season ends, Henney goes back to Takoma Park, Md., where he is the D.C. crime writer for , a website localized to individual cities.

What sparked your interest in following police reports? I’ve been a radio enthusiast since the CB [citizens band] radio era, which peaked in 1976. I was always going to Radio Shack. I just love listening to what is going on with the police, fire departments, planes and ships.

When did you start the Rehoboth Weekend Update? I started doing a faxed version in the 1990s. In 1998, I made the transition to the Internet. Ten years ago, the Internet was considered the domain of hackers and pornographers. Now, it’s slowly being accepted as a [source of information]. It still doesn’t have the credibility of a printed newspaper.

Even though the updates are in a linear format for e-mail, you pepper them with plenty of photographs. Who takes them?

I take most of the photos myself, and if I can’t, I put in a photo credit. I try to be discreet; I like the photos to look candid. Sometimes I put the camera at my waist and snap pictures. Or, I’ll pretend I’m taking photos of something like the sunset.

Is that what you did on Labor Day at the Henlopen Acres yacht basin? My mom and I were on the beach when I heard that the [Delaware Marine Police] had stopped [six] boaters suspected of being under the influence. I went over and, indeed, they were there. I took photos from across the water.

Do people ever get angry? I’ve had people say, “Don’t take my picture.” But I don’t think there’s much of an argument if I’m outside and they’re outside in a public area.

How do the police react? Years ago, they were more wary. Once they realized I was not out to get them, they were, “Oh, yeah. There’s Alan.” Some policemen are on my e-mail list. I’ve gotten to know Sgt. Clifford Dempsey [of the Dewey Beach Police]. I rode with him one weekend and wrote it up. He’s a straight shooter. He tells you what he thinks.

What areas do you cover? Anywhere I can get to easily. I like to cover from Lewes to Ocean City, although I don’t usually make it down to Ocean City. I have friends down there who can send photos up to me.

Would you like to be a policeman or detective? I’m not quite the type.

In the Aug. 31, 2009, report, you wrote about a “bizarre water rescue” at the Rusty Rudder. An Olney, Md., man heard a woman screaming for help from the water, and he talked to her for 30 minutes, attempting to coax her out. She took off her dress and tossed it aside. When he went into the water to help, she swam away. Did his story sound believable to you? I didn’t believe him at first. I heard about it on the scanner and went down. She was in the water for an hour or more. I thought he was making it up, but the details turned out to be right on target. I posted his interview on YouTube.

Was that a popular story among readers? The top 25 search results that brought people to my site at that time included her name. I got a lot of hits. It’s a very odd story. I like going after the unusual.

Like the guys in the BMW? I heard about an accident involving a BMW on Brooklyn Avenue [in Rehoboth]. Police said they got a call from an OnStar Service. There was this lovely, brandnew BMW with the airbags deployed. The guys in it were drunk and sideswiped a Mercedes. I thought that was a great story. It was completely dark, and I went out and got shots. The car radio was blaring the entire time and the car lights were on. It was really odd. The police gave them an alcohol test. Because of OnStar, their car turned them in.

You were early on the scene when there was a fight at Lingo’s Market [in downtown Rehoboth]. I was rather shocked. I was listening to the scanner and heard about a fight at Lingo’s Market involving a 66-year-old man, who’d been punched in the face, and, indeed, it was [then-owner] Archie Lingo.

What about the car owner with the unpaid traffic tickets? A guy had a bunch of parking tickets — $430 worth — that he hadn’t paid. He leaves his car in a loading zone on Baltimore Avenue [in Rehoboth], goes home and reports the car stolen. He got charged with making a false crime report. It’s the funny little stories like this that you get in a small town — people love this stuff.