You do not have to stay and talk to the police just because they’d like to talk to you. As a citizen, you often have the right to simply go about your business. The United States is not intended to be a police state where officers can just stop people on a whim.
If an officer is talking to you and you’re unsure where you stand, one of the best things you can do is simply to ask them if you’re being detained. They must have reasonable suspicion to detain you or probable cause to arrest you. Lacking these, they cannot force you to stay where you are.
One example of a legal detainment
It is important to note that you can be detained on mere suspicions of a crime — even if there is no subsequent arrest. You may not be guilty of anything. Just the same, an officer still has to provide a valid reason to hold you at the scene.
One good example of a legal detainment is if you get pulled over for a traffic stop. The officer thinks you were speeding. They can detain you while deciding if you are going to be issued a citation. Driving away from the traffic stop before you’re released is illegal — even if you weren’t actually speeding or are ultimately just given a warning.
Similarly, the police can detain you if they believe you match the description of someone who committed a crime, even if that’s just a mistake on their part.
When detainment leads to an arrest
It’s important to understand your rights so that you can use them when dealing with law enforcement. You also want to be well aware of your legal options if you do get arrested. Invoke your right to remain silent and ask to speak to an attorney right away.