IT TOOK A POSSE of his fellow sheriffs and a barrage of political potshots to turn Arlington Sheriff James A. Gondles Jr. around, but the county's jailer has finally put an end to the barbaric practice of strip-searching everybody entering his custody. Not only had the practice embarrassed thousands of citizens who were forced to stand naked and expose intimate parts of their bodies to authorities, but it had upset many self-respecting sheriffs who felt the matter reflected poorly on their office in general. In yielding to pressures, Sheriff Gondles also has taken some constructive steps to improve operations throughout the center.

Security -- invoked up to now as the excuse for degrading everyone from a suspected sandwich-eater on the subway to a man who wrote something nasty on a traffic ticket -- is not going to suffer, either. On the contrary, Sheriff Gondles has figured out a few civilized ways to keep order. With a quick flick of the budget pen, ways have been found to hire five more people to watch over the place; and federal money will be used to buy metal detector equipment. The sheriff also will ask for money in the future to buy video and sound equipment and to remodel the facilities with separate holding cells -- one for men, one for women. Only when someone may be housed with the general population at the center, or when there is probable cause that the person is potentially dangerous, will there be a strip-search.

These new policies, unlike the crude goings-on over the last six years, make sense. In addition, the sheriff has named an eight-member citizens' committee to review procedures, examine the changes now being made and recommend a permanent policy -- and he has pledged to refrain from any further comments on the matter while it is under reivew. That in itself is a blessing as Arlington moves to end a nasty chapter in its law enforcement history.