It was a historic first for the state of Illinois -- a county-wide drug raid encompassing all eight high schools in the area. Teams of state police, sheriffs' deputies, local police and specialists in the field (drug-sniffing dogs) invaded the Tazewell County schools one Friday morning earlier this year.

"As police wheeled into each school," the Pekin Daily Times noted, "they blocked parking lots. No one could go in or out. The students were held in classrooms." Some students were held for as long as two hours. They were not formally arrested, but since they could not leave, they were effectively in custody.

According to the police, the dogs were walked past 10,000 school lockers. Walked? If a dog reacted to a particular odor or scent, the locker was opened and searched. At Washington High School, the dogs became intensely interested in three lockers. None, as it turned out, contained drugs.

The raid was not limited to the high school buildings. Cars were also checked for one block around each school. This included residential homes, resulting in warrantless searches of cars that did not belong only tostudents. Well, said Tazewell County States Attorney Erik Blanc, no car was searched unless and until a sniffer dog gave the sign. That sign, he said, was synonymous with probable cause. One dog reacted sharply to an ancient Datsun. Pawing and pointing, the dog signaled a clear "hit" on the car. The owner was not present, but the search went on. Only a couple of shotgun shells were found.

The county-wide sweep was a stirring example of law enforcement initiative. There had been no prior indications of any specific drug dealing or drug possession in the high schools. So, the officers and their excitable companions were engaged in a mass random search -- the kind the British troops used to inflict on the American colonists. Tazewell County Sheriff James Donahue explained that the invasionswere "to find out if there was a problem. You never know until you go in to take a look."

It was also a training expedition. Said State Police Captain Keith Karsted: "We needed to find out if we could do it."

Dave Simpson, publisher of the Pekin Daily Times, was greatly disturbed by the dragnet searches, and he was just as disturbed by the lack of outrage in the county. Except for his editorials, a few letters to newspapers in the county and some sardonic comments from students who had been held prisoner, most of the populace seemed to approve of the raids or were apathetic.

In a letter to the Pekin Daily Times, however, Lisa Colclasure observed: "It appears ... our rights as citizens are decided upon on a day-by-day basis by a select few."

The Peoria chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was another indignant exception. J. D. Wheeler, president of the chapter, told me: "The most frustrating thing ... has been the lack of public reaction to this event. It is apparently part of the widespread attitude today that in the war on drugs, 'anything goes.' "

Of demographic interest in the fabled national "war" on drugs is the nature of Tazewell County. In the big city ghettos, the Bill of Rights is often bent out of meaning because, the police say, the volume of violence and drugs is such that there is no time for "technicalities."

But Wheeler points out, "Tazewell County is a white, blue-collar working-class and agriculture mix. There have been none of the problems of gangs or gang-related crime that one associates with inner-city schools in large urban centers."

However, as Congress and the courts, very much including the Supreme Court, keep making "realistic" exceptions to what the Framers of the Fourth Amendment clearly intended, law enforcement in Tazewell County and Central Harlem becomes less and less dissimilar.

Two students were arrested in the grand sweep, but months later the authorities have yet to disclose whether they were charged with any offense or punished. Nor will the officials say what drugs were found and where. The only word from the raiders is that a small amount was confiscated.

In an editorial, Simpson wrote: "Sacrificing {our} freedoms in the name of fighting drugs may be popular, but it will ultimately ... like drugs ... harm the lives of our children."

Meanwhile, some high school students have suggested that a sweep of lower-level schools could be productive.