Have you ever needed to get an official copy of your birth certificate? Or have you ever wanted to look into statistics to evaluate the safety of a neighborhood? Finding out that type of stuff (along with other kinds of information) can be quite simple as long as one knows where to look, as it is all available in public records. The fact of the matter is that state and city governments are required to make some information available to any citizen that requests it. Public records originated at a federal level, but almost all states have refashioned their own government information laws according to what the state legislature believes should be made public. In the state of California government data is governed by the California Public Records Act (CPRA) which legally obligates the state to provide you with the information you request.
California birth, death, marriage and divorce records are maintained by the California Department of Public Health Vital Records (CDPH). While certified certificates are only available to family members, informational copies are available to anyone. Statewide recording of vital records began in 1905. For records prior to 1905, write to the clerk of the county in question.
Birth & Death Records
Birth and death records are available from the County Recorder's Office or the California Department of Public Health, Vital Records. Records for current year events and one year prior are available from the county health department in the jurisdiction where the event occurred, while records from all years are available from the proper county recorder.
Public marriage records are available from the county recorder in the county where the license was issued. Confidential marriage records are available only through the county clerk in the county where the license was issued. CDPH only has marriage records for 1949-1986 and 1998-1999; records for all other dates must be obtained from the County Recorder's office in the appropriate county.
Certified copies of divorce decrees are available from the Superior Court in the county where the decree was granted. CDPH only has divorce records from 1962-1984, while records for other dates must be obtained from the County Recorder's office in the appropriate county.
Access to criminal history summary records maintained by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) is restricted by law to legitimate law enforcement purposes and authorized applicant agencies. That said, individuals have the right to request a copy of their own criminal history record from the Department to ensure accuracy and completeness. To receive their own criminal history record, individuals must submit fingerprint images in addition to paying an administrative fee to the DOJ along with following standard application instructions.
California law authorizes certain governmental and private organizations to conduct criminal record background checks to help determine the suitability of a person applying for a license, employment, or a volunteer position for an administrative fee that can be either paid for by the agency requesting the background check or by the applicant the agency is requesting the background check on.
To obtain a transcript of a California Local or Superior Court Record, contact the court with jurisdiction over the specific case. These records can be especially challenging to find as there are many different jurisdictions in the state.
Since 2004, the public has been able to view information on sex offenders that are required to register with local law enforcement under California's Megan's Law. This information was previously available only by personally visiting police stations and sheriff offices or by calling a 900 toll-free number. California has required sex offenders to register with their local law enforcement agencies since 1947. Signed by the Governor on September 24, 2004, Megan's Law provides the public with certain information on the whereabouts of sex offenders so that members of local communities can protect themselves and their children. All states now have some form of Megan's Law.
Government Records and Information
In 1968, the California Public Records Act was passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor, requiring the disclosure of governmental records to the public upon request, unless otherwise exempted by the law. Under this policy and the California Constitution, Californians have the right to access public information maintained by local and state government agencies, including the Department of Justice. Within this Act, public records are broadly defined to include "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of a public's business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristic." Due to this broadly encompassing definition of what counts as a part of the public record, only purely personal information unrelated to the conduct of a publicly retained business' could be considered exempt from this definition. There is quite a bit of information and intelligence that can be discovered via public records; the only thing necessary is to simply inquire or search for it in the right place.
On November 2, 2004, California voters approved Proposition 59, commonly called the Sunshine Amendment, to the California Constitution. This amendment read in part that "the people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business, and, therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny."
So if you want information on how any governmental body operates in the state of California you can simply request it under the CPRA. This includes stuff like budgets, bidding processes for contracts, salaries of government employees and even government records on UFO sightings.