YOU WOULD HAVE thought, after all the recent uproar in Arlington over a gross and humiliating strip-search of a woman charged with "consuming food on a Metrorail car," that the county sheriff might do something about this degrading practice. But no: not only are indiscriminate strip-searches still being made at the county jail, but Sheriff James A. Gondles defends them as all in a day's work. One result is a lawsuit filed by the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that describes the separate but equally insane ordeals suffered by two other people at the hands of Arlington authorities.

There is the case of a 32-year-old woman arrested on a charge of violating the county's noise ordinance by playing her stereo too loud. After being frisked, handcuffed, shouted at and shoved by county police officers, she was hauled off to jail. There, according to the woman's complaint, she was stripped and searched -- and, while waiting for friends, held in a cold cell for more than two hours.A month later, she was acquitted of the charge.

Next case: a 23-year-old Arlington man was arrested at his home on a charge of violating the state's obscenity law because of comments he wrote on the back of a check when he paid a speeding ticket. He was visited by state troopers, he reports, and taken to jail and strip-searched. Since then, charges against the man have been dropped by the county prosecutor's office.

Sheriff Gondles says the strip-searches are made to protect "everybody who is committed to our custody." Protect them from what? Is there no room for discretion, no place for good sense? This should never have come to the point of a lawsuit, and perhaps the litigation could still be eliminated if Arlington's misguided "protectors" could come up with some guidelines for civilized searches of people charged with serious crimes. And if they can't, their superiors should show them how.