Rule of thumb: if you call the police and they want to talk to you, go ahead and talk to them - if you call them then they are (usually) on your side; however, if you don't call the police and they want to talk to you, don't talk to them.
It's the officers' job to investigate crimes and make arrests. If police want to talk to you and you're not clearly the victim then you are a suspect. Police are specially trained to elicit confessions through what seems like ordinary conversation. They wear their uniforms, control the situation, and make it seem like you're hurting yourself by not talking to them. Despite what it seems, you can only hurt yourself by talking with the police. Not talking to the police is as easy as saying, "I don't feel comfortable talking to you." The officers will ask why and make it seem like its suspicious that you don't want to talk to them. Don't tell them why, just be firm in your conviction that you don't want to talk to them.
"Why don't you want to talk to me? Do you have something to hide?"
"No officer, I just don't want to talk to you. Thanks."
There's a number of cases on what's known as 'police encounters,' that is, when police talk to citizens. In order to make arrests, police try to move the conversation up the three stages of these encounters. It's like a game, where depending on what you say the police can move their piece forward toward their goal. Their goal is to make an arrest. If they can't make it to stage 3 then they cannot make an arrest. They lose if they can't hold you any longer and you don't let them get to stage 3. If they get to stage 3 then you lose: you get arrested.
Stage 1 is at no suspicion. This is a person minding his own business walking down the street. The police can talk to them just as any other citizen. In Georgia the police can ask for ID. The officers cannot detain you. Beyond asking for ID the police have no right to know anything else about you or your business any more than anyone else on the street. "Officer, I don't have time to talk to you." "Officer, I'd really just prefer not to talk to you. Can I go now?"
Stage 2 is with some articulable suspicion of a crime (they have to be able to explain their suspicion based on what they have observed). It's not enough to make an arrest, but they can hold you for a brief investigation. This includes traffic stops or where the circumstances seem inherently suspicious. They can ask you questions related to their suspicion and they will certainly be trying to get a confession from you. They can play "good cop/bad cop" games and may ask you to "make it easy on yourself" if you comply. They'll say that the whole process will be easier and better for you if you just confess or answer their questions. Really, it's just easier and better for them if you confess. Here you can rest on your uncomfortable situation, "Officer, you're making me feel uncomfortable. I don't want to talk to you. Am I being detained right now?" This will almost certainly make them mad. They're frustrated that they're about to lose the game. They may threaten to get the dogs or arrest you on the spot They already know if they can arrest you. If they can arrest you then they are just fishing for more evidence, if they cannot arrest you they are laying traps for you to play into so that they can arrest you. If they get any evidence, any confession, any statement that makes it seem more likely than not that you have committed a crime, then they arrest you and get to stage 3. If they don't have enough evidence to arrest you then they have no choice but to let you go. From the time they stop you and enter stage 2, a timer starts. Your rights provide you with the protection that these investigatory stops can last no longer than is necessary to investigate the suspicion. If you stone-wall them then they cannot hold you long. Be firm.
Stage 3: the arrest. "You have the right to remain silent." USE IT. At this point you cannot talk your way out of the arrest so don't talk. "You have the right to an attorney." Use it! If they ask you any questions say, "I wont talk to you without my attorney. I want my attorney." (God bless America.)
Moral of the story: avoid talking to the police! They are constantly trying to move you closer to arrest. Their conversations are designed through their extensive training to move you toward a confession and arrest. Any statements that you make can be used against you. Never be rude or mean or verbally abusive, but calmly, politely, be firm in your rights.
"Officer, with all due respect I'd prefer not to talk to you."
"Officer, can I go?"
"Officer, why are you holding me? I'd like to go."
"No reason, I just don't want to talk to you."
"No, I'd prefer if you didn't come in and look around."
("Why not? Are you hiding something?")
"No officer. I'd just prefer if you didn't look around my home."
And, most importantly:
"No officer, I don't want you to search my car."
Don't give the police the opportunity to arrest you. Avoid talking to the police if at all possible. Police are generally good people and generally look out for the good of all society, but they are trained and disciplined to get confessions and make arrests. What starts as a seemingly innocent conversation can end up with you spending some time in jail, even if you are innocent, for no good reason.
If you've been pressured into talking to the police and unfairly arrested, then please give me a call. I want to help.